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History's Connections

How is Texas Jack Omohundro, a cowboy who rose to fame in the 1870s, connected to one of the greatest horror books and movies ever made? The answer is a demonstration of all of the ways that history is interconnected and reaches into everything.

In January of 1872, Texas Jack and his friend Buffalo Bill lead Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a buffalo hunt on the plains of Nebraska. Other aristocrats and big game hunters of Europe took note of the Grand Duke's hunt, reported on in newspapers both in America and abroad, and sought the famous scouts that had ensured Alexis' hunt went off without a hitch. One of these would-be Nimrods was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, who arrived at Fort McPherson, Nebraska, in early spring of 1872 on the advice of General Phil Sheridan, who paired him with Bill Cody for a hunt. As Cody often did, he asked his friend Texas Jack to join the hunt, which turned out to be fortuitous, as Bill was soon called away to manage a different hunt, leaving Jack in charge of the Earl and his friend and personal physician, Dr. George Kingsley.

Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl

Cody later wrote that "The Earl seemed to be somewhat offended at this, and I don't think he has ever forgiven me for "going back on him." Let that be as it may, he found Texas Jack a splendid hunter and guide, and Jack has been his guide on several hunts since." Indeed, the men remained firm friends for the rest of Texas Jack's life, and the Earl wrote a touching remembrance of his friend after his death that was published in newspapers across the world.

As Texas Jack and Dunraven ranged into Colorado hunting elk, Jack told his new friend about the unspoiled beauty and good hunting to be had at Estes Park. After a brief stop in Denver, the Earl travelled to the Park and was immediately taken with the beauty of the place and the quality of the wild game in the area. Over the next few years, as the Earl returned to explore Estes Park and later Yellowstone National Park with Texas Jack, he began to acquire all of Estes Park, by legal–and sometimes questionable–means by inducing itinerants to establish homestead claims, which they promptly sold to him. The land was very strategically chosen along stream courses radiating out from the Estes Park valley so that, though he owned only 8,000 acres, in effect he controlled nearly 15,000 acres.

Estes Park, Colorado

Perhaps his plan was to use the area to raise cattle. Two other European aristocrats that the veteran cowboy Texas Jack guided into the Western wilds–Sir John Rae Reid and Count Otto Franc von Lichtenstein–would go on to become prominently involved in the cattle trade. Whether disuaded by the ire of locals who were upset at his vast land holdings in the area or by the death of his old cowboy friend and hunting partner Texas Jack, the Earl stopped visiting the area in the 1880s, and eventually sold it in 1908. But two lasting artifacts from his time in the area are the paintings he commissioned from his friend Albert Bierstadt and the Estes Park Hotel he established to house his friends and visitors.

Painting of Estes Park by Albert Bierstadt

Kept unspoiled during the tenure of his ownership, the 1908 sale of the Earl's Colorado land was made to F. O. Stanley and B. D. Sanborn. Freelan Oscar Stanley, founder of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company–popularly known as Stanley Steamer–followed the Earl's example and founded his own hotel in Estes Park, 7 miles from the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The sprawling 142-room colonial revival hotel was designed as a resort for upper class easterners and a health retreat for sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis. In 1974, just 100 years after The Earl of Dunraven visited the area for the first time with Texas Jack, a young writer and his wife spent a night in the hotel. "While we were living [in Boulder] we heard about this terrific old mountain resort hotel," the author later recalled, "and decided to give it a try. But when we arrived, they were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the plac— with all those long, empty corridors." The man and his wife were served dinner in an empty dining room accompanied by canned orchestral music; "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book in my mind."

The Stanley Hotel

That book was The Shining, and the author was, of course, Stephen King. "I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors," King said, "looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of The Shining firmly set in my mind." The Earl of Dunraven never returned to Estes Park, and his primary past time became sailing, and he competed in the Americas Cup twice. His legacy is broad. German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter plays the Lord Dunn–Raven Stradivarius, an antique violin made by Antonio Stradivari. It is one of only 700 known existent Stradivarius instruments. The Lord Dunn-Raven was made during 1710, known as Stradivari's "golden period." In America, both Dunraven Peak and Dunraven Pass in Yellowstone National Park are named after the Earl, who first visited the park with Texas Jack in 1874. During World War I, although the earl was well over seventy years old, he turned his steam yacht, the Grianaig, into a hospital ship and served in her himself. He died on 14 June 1926, 93 years ago this week.

Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl

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